Tethers are one of those things that you probably don't think about until a couple days before you leave for that once a year offshore race. Depending on how far offshore it is maybe you decide you don't really need it or maybe you run out and buy the cheapest one you can find. Any tether is better than no tether, but your tether is what keeps you on the boat and it's worthy of spending a little extra time looking for the right one for you.
At APS we stock two brands of tethers - Spinlock and Wichard. They are both top of the line tethers and each has its own strengths. I spoke with representatives of both manufacturers about their tethers and I've also offered some suggestions about proper tether use and safety.
Full disclosure dictates that I tell you that I did not actually test these tethers on the water - these opinions are based solely on taking a close look at the products and speaking with the manufacturers.
The two Wichard tethers we offer are both ORC approved. They make a straight 2 meter long snap shackle to clip tether that has elastic in the webbing that reduces it's length when loose to 1 meter.. They also offer a 3 clip version with a snap shackle and webbing that spits to one elastic piece and one straight piece with clips on both.
The Wichard tethers all have built in overload indicators that meet ORC regulations. I asked Greg Williams, Technical Service Advisor at Wichard about the overload indicator and how it works:
You can recognize [the overload indicator] from the shrink tubing around the indicator. It works by the following: a shock load or static load exceeding that of 500lbs (a EN standard) the load-indicating stitching releases and exposes a small sown flag. The tether has not broken nor have the shackles. It only means that the load of this indicator stitching has at one time or another, at least for a moment, been exceeded. For some history, I and no one here at Wichard, Inc. has ever had a tether’s indicator exceeded this limit.
The Wichard tethers have locking clips for the boat end connection - basically you have to squeeze the back of the clip together with the front before it will open - it's part of the natural motion of opening the clip so it's no harder to do than without the lock. This prevents it from accidentally detaching itself by twisting it's attachment point and is a key safety feature to have on a tether.
The Wichard tethers are pretty pricey as well and I expect much of this cost increase is due to the snap shackle. The snap shackle definitely results in a heavier tether than the Spinlock race versions if weight is a concern.
The Wichard tethers are the only ones out there that are ORC approved. They are well made and Wichard has been in the tether game for a while so they're a known, quality product. Whether or not the snap shackle is easy to release if you're pulled by the boat isn't in my opinion all that significant - you should carry a knife anyways and being able to release without cutting it is just an extra bonus.
Spinlock Deckware Safety Lines
Spinlock offers several options in their tethers (they call them safety lines). They have two versions - the standard (shown above) and the race and both offer straight 2-clip as well as the split 3-clip versions. They have the same sort of elastic webbing as the Wichard on some of the models to reduce the length from 2m to 1m when not loaded.
The Spinlock safety lines have locking clips at all ends in the standard version while the race version has a cow hitch or luggage tag loop style harness attachment. You attach it by putting the loop through the harness and then passing the tether through the loop. As well as overload indicators that function similarly to the Wichard tethers and trips over 500 kgs of load.
What makes the race version (shown above) so racey? For starters it has thinner webbing. The standard tethers have 25mm webbing (black to the right) while the race version is only 16mm which offers a 28% weight savings. The race version also offers a lighter clip end than the standard style in addition to eliminating the harness clip in favor of the cow hitch to save more weight. The race tether webbing also has a waterproof coating to reduce extra weight from water absorption.
Note: the standard version is still available in the short term with a cow hitch end but expect to see the stock we have hitting the sale rack in the near future.
The Spinlock tethers are lightweight. The race versions in particular are obviously made with the weight conscious sailor in mind. They also look pretty cool, and if I'm going to drown being dragged behind a boat doing 12 kts I'd like to at least look good doing it, so that's a plus.
None of the Spinlock tethers have snap shackles, but as I mentioned above I think that a snap shackle is not a certain means of release under loads and you really must carry a knife with you regardless. The cow hitch harness attachment reduces weight, eliminates any risk of accidental release and keeps clunky metal shackles from getting in your way when working on deck.
Spinlock also sells a safety knife for cutting yourself loose. It's a nice option that will keep you from accidentally cutting your fingers off as you frantically try to cut yourself free. That being said - I wouldn't go offshore without a real knife where I can reach it in addition to the safety knife.
I found the locking clip on the Spinlock tethers to be a little more difficult to operate than the Wichard. With some practice I could open it with ease but it definitely took a little bit to figure out what the best way to open it with each hand was.
The lack of a snap shackle or any shackle on the race version to attach to your harness might not work for everyone. I find it to be an improvement but some mind find it to be the opposite. The upside is that you can attach the cow hitch to any shackle you want if that's what you prefer.
Spinlock has really dived into their Deckware line over the last few years. Their harnesses and life jackets are top notch. These tethers are no exception and I think they really provide a great option for offshore racing. The lightweight race tethers are perfect for the hardcore racers - if you're going to cut your toothbrush in half why wouldn't you try to reduce weight everywhere else.
Now that you know what your options are and you get yourself a tether it's important to use it properly. Just like the life jacket that won't keep you afloat if you're not wearing it your tether won't keep you on the boat if it's down below. There are plenty of stories to go around that teach us that wearing the tether is a must offshore in any kind of situation where there's a risk of going overboard.
Before you even get offshore there are some considerations to remember to help your tether do it's job of keeping you on the boat. Tethers, per regulations, are a maximum of 2 meters long, which means that if you get washed down the boat and the tether catches you it has to do so 6 ft forward of the stern or it's still not going to keep you on board. Proper installation of jacklines and clip-in points in the cockpit is essential. You should always make sure that if your tether is maxed out it will still keep you from going over the transom.
Proper care and maintenance of tethers is important just like it is for every other piece of hardware and gear you own. You should rinse them after use and make sure they're stored in a dry place.
Wrap it Up Already
Tethers are an important thing to consider before any offshore race or trip. There are lots of choices out there and both the Wichard and Spinlock tethers we carry are great options. I think the Spinlock is definitely the way to go for serious offshore racing due to it's reduced weight and straight forward cow hitch harness attachment.